How to Develop an Effective Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is an increasing priority for businesses. But simply implementing a program aimed at reducing biases and breaking down barriers doesn’t guarantee success.

Experts say that even the most well-intentioned and best-designed corporate diversity programs can fail to achieve their goals if they’re not managed effectively. To change a corporate culture for the better, it takes a concerted effort and an ongoing commitment.

What is a Diversity and Inclusion Program?

“Diversity and inclusion (D&I)” and “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)” are two terms frequently used to describe corporate programs that promote representation and participation of diverse groups of people. 

“Some of the best companies in the world, more than likely, will be the most diverse companies. Because we say it time and time again: different values bring different views. And the goal is to bring everyone together,” says Joshua Compton, a ZoomInfo revenue generation analyst and a trailblazer of our ZoomInclusion initiative.

What it Means to Have Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging 

Four core concepts — diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging — illustrate the stages and steps companies take when building an effective DEI system. But what do those terms mean? As DEI expert Verna Myers famously puts it, “diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Here are some more key definitions and differences to help you understand the importance of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging.


Diversity means that you are inviting people from a variety of backgrounds to join your business and actively ensuring that the people you hire are not a homogeneous group. It refers to a wide range of characteristics, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, cultural background, ability/disability, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.


Inclusion is a company’s ability to take the unique presence, point of view, and offerings of people with different abilities and identities, and integrate them into the whole work environment. It’s also important to note that, in the spirit of Myers’ “being asked to dance” framework, inclusion is an active program — not simply an open space where employees shoulder most of the work.


Perhaps the first thing to understand about equity in DEI discussions is that it is different than equality. The terms are similar, but there are important distinctions: while equality refers to treating all people the same, equity typically means actively accounting for the societal hurdles that people face.

As the Society for Human Resource Management puts it, equity includes “working to eliminate barriers to fair treatment for disadvantaged groups, from the team level through systemic changes.”


Belonging is the result of the alignment between diversity, equity, and inclusion. Creating a sense of belonging for all of your employees is probably one of the most difficult pieces of the D&I puzzle. But once you do, it makes people feel that they are in the right place and that their purpose aligns with the company’s. 

D&I Programs are Critical to Business Success

When a business has a diverse group of people in key decision-making positions, they are able to see things through their own unique perspectives and the lens of their experience — which has positive effects across the business. 

At its essence, every business operates in a community that exists locally, across the country, or even internationally. Prioritizing D&I at your business directly impacts the relatability of the product or service your business provides and the value it adds to the community it serves. 

What are the Benefits of Implementing a D&I Program?

Research has shown that companies that implement D&I programs typically see the following benefits:

1. Improved financial results

Companies with more diversity are likely to produce better financial results. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, “homogeneity imposes financial costs and diversity produces financial gains.”

2. Better organizational and team performance

Diversity and inclusion programs have an immediate impact on a company’s culture, which has a domino effect on its overall productivity. 

Recent research has found that companies get the best results when both upper management and lower management are racially diverse, with even a small improvement in the diversity gap between these groups of employees correlating with a boost in productivity.

3. Advanced innovation 

There is a growing global awareness of the inter-relationship between diversity and inclusion, with more businesses finding that customers and employees want them to model D&I values. According to a PWC Diversity and Inclusion Survey, 75% of businesses deemed investing in D&I programs a top priority. 

4. Increased employee retention

Employee retention is a critical factor in a company’s success. According to a study cited by CNBC, 75% of senior managers said they would consider leaving jobs for more diverse and inclusive organizations.

“If you look at the Googles and Salesforces of the world, they have massive inclusion and diversity programs. People want to go work for those companies because of things like that,” says Cam Johnson, a sales manager and trailblazer of our Zoom In Color group. “Obviously, in the world we live in today, being happy at work — for a majority of the population — is more important than the money they can make.” 

How to Go Above and Beyond Typical Corporate D&I

Simply having a D&I program isn’t necessarily enough. A Boston Consulting Group survey that found that of the 97% of people whose companies have D&I programs, only 25% of people from diverse groups felt they had personally benefited. 

Want to fill the gap between implementation and meaningful impact? Here are a few things to consider: 

1. Develop Antidiscrimination Policies

Company policies are about more than compliance. They show employees that a company takes acts of discrimination seriously, and will actively try to prevent it in the workplace. As with any policy, antidiscrimination policies should be as specific as possible, so that employees have a clear understanding of what would happen if or when they report an incident. 

2. Host Formal Training

One-and-done training doesn’t work well because the conversations stop once the training is over. Ongoing, structured discussions keep the dialogue and feedback going. You can appoint facilitators or moderators to host smaller breakout sessions to engage and listen to employees. 

3. Use KPIs to Hold Leadership Accountable 

Like other business initiatives, your D&I program should have a clear purpose and accompanying metrics. After you’ve established goals for your D&I program, you can use those measurements to refine your approach and maybe rethink initiatives that aren’t having much of an impact. 

KPIs will look different at every company, but some examples are hiring goals and employee engagement rates (i.e., how many employees attended a D&I event). 

4. Establish Effective Mentorship Programs 

Mentorship has been proven to be very effective — especially for underrepresented employees who may not have role models who look like them. 

“When we talk about inclusion and having people in your corner, that’s the role I want to fulfill. It’s why every time I see a new SDR … and they’re a person of color, I reach out to them right away,” Johnson says. “I let them know that ‘I understand you because I’ve been there before,’ and that I’m here to be their mentor and to answer any questions or frustrations or anything that comes up.” 

Seeing people who look like you in leadership is powerful because it signals that there is a viable, achievable career path ahead. For underrepresented people (especially in the tech industry), that’s not always the case. 

We don’t have all of the answers at ZoomInfo, but we listen to our employees. When you have a passionate workforce, it’s easier to work together to foster a culture where people of all backgrounds feel included, supported, and safe. 

Final Thoughts on Building a D&I Program

If you’re simply patting yourself on the back for having a D&I program, it’s probably time to start digging a little deeper. Continue the learning process through a combination of dialogue, training, educational resources, panel discussions, and more. To hear from a diversity recruiter, check out this episode from ZoomInfo’s podcast Talk Data to Me.